In the months leading up to this week’s announcement that the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, the technology giant spent $2.7 million on federal lobbying, including on antitrust matters, recent public disclosures show.
That investment in federal lobbying, which totaled $10.9 million for all of 2022, represents a decline compared to what Google spent just a few years ago. In 2018, Google reported spending $21.2 million on federal lobbying, but the following year reported a 44 percent slide in spending as it restructured its K Street operation. It has not rebounded since then.
The company’s political action committee, too, has raised and spent less, according to campaign finance disclosures.
The lawsuit against Google — alleging that the company squashed rivals with anticompetitive digital advertising practices for 15 years — received bipartisan praise from lawmakers, including the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
“The tech monopoly has gotten away with complete market dominance — in the case of Google, 90 percent of the ad market … for too long,” Klobuchar said. “We just gave the Justice Department additional resources, and we are glad they will be using them.”
Klobuchar, whose father was a newspaper columnist, sponsored a bill that advanced out of the Judiciary panel in September to enhance local news outlets’ ability to negotiate together with Google and Facebook for more advertising revenue.
Lobbyist ties to Portman
Google lobbied on that bill and more than 40 others in the House and Senate, covering topics ranging from artificial intelligence to workplace diversity between October and December, according to its most recent report to Congress as required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The first topic cited, on the second page of the 19-page report, was “regulation of online advertising.” Other issues included “regulation and antitrust law, domestically and internationally” and “Openness and competition in online services and devices.”
Though he is not currently registered to lobby, Mark Isakowitz runs U.S. government affairs and public policy for the company. He joined Google in 2019, after serving as chief of staff to then-Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who retired at the beginning of this year. Isakowitz was a longtime lobbyist before that, working years at the lobby shop formerly known as Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock (now Fierce Government Relations).
Karan Bhatia, a former deputy U.S. Trade Representative during the George W. Bush administration including when Portman served as U.S. trade representative, is Google’s global head of government affairs and public policy.
In-house Google lobbyist Seth Webb, who worked for Republicans including Portman on Capitol Hill and is the contact on Google’s most recent lobbying filing, did not respond to a request seeking comment. Google’s press team also did not respond to an email inquiry.
Google’s in-house lobbyists with Democratic ties include Ed An, Frannie Wellings and Johanna Shelton.
Google’s top in-house lobbyist previously was ex-New York GOP Rep. Susan Molinari, who departed the company in late 2018.
Spending similar to Apple
Google’s spending on federal lobbying in 2022 was similar to what Apple spent ($9.4 million) but far below other tech companies, such as Amazon ($19.7 million) and Meta ($19.15 million); both Amazon and Meta were among the 10 biggest spenders on federal lobbying last year.
When it comes to political money, Google’s PAC spent about $1.5 million in the 2022 cycle, Federal Election Commission filings show, down from about $2 million in the 2018 cycle. The PAC donated $60,000 each to the campaign committees of both Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate.
An analysis by OpenSecrets.org, which includes contributions made directly by people listing Google as their employer and also some by members of their households, found $13.7 million was donated in the 2022 election cycle, with 88 percent going to Democrats.
The tech company’s parent, Alphabet, announced layoffs late last week, saying it had cut about 12,000 employees.
“Google’s online ad market share is now at an all time low, and it just laid off 12,000 employees in the midst of a declining advertising market — so this DOJ case seems pretty disconnected from economic reality,” said Adam Kovacevich, the CEO of the tech group Chamber of Progress and a former Google employee and Democratic congressional aide, in a news release. “As the tech sector and advertising industry shed jobs, the Biden Administration should be looking for ways to support these sectors rather than undermine what’s left.”
Ryan Tarinelli and Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.